What new initiatives is Malaysia Healthcare involved in?

PONNUDURAI: Malaysia Healthcare has been promoting Malaysia as a premier health destination since 2006 in the area of medical and wellness tourism. Its core business is providing end-to-end services for patients looking to come to Malaysia. It has, however, evolved its health tourism initiatives by raising the quality level of medical services here in Malaysia as well as abroad, therefore enabling patients to experience a complete suite of services pre and post Malaysia. Today, people travelling for healthcare reasons are savvy enough to know that they can go to different countries for medical and wellness services based on their budgets. Malaysia Healthcare has basically embarked on technologies that would improve services and help patients to get the best treatment in Malaysia. We already have joint ventures with healthcare technology partners in the US and partners on the ground as far as Sao Paulo, Dubai, Australia, and New Zealand. By building partnerships, we cross-market our expertise and therefore improving our brand image abroad within the medical tourism sector.

What are your growth and development plans?

PONNUDURAI: We are looking at new markets, such as Myanmar for example, where now that the political situation is more relaxed, we see more opportunities arising within the healthcare sector. Myanmar nationals will be looking at having their medical treatment abroad and Malaysia would be a perfect destination for them. Other countries where we have already established our services are in the emerging markets, like Bangladesh, where we have our partners, as well as in other countries such as Laos and Cambodia, where we would like to expand.

In 2011, foreign patient healthcare spend revenue had grown by 34.5% and the number of patients grew by 47.2% compared to 2010. Which geographic markets are priority targets for you?

PONNUDURAI: Generally speaking, Malaysia has been targeting primarily Indonesia as a source of potential healthcare patients from outside of Malaysia, but Malaysia Healthcare looks further than that because we do not see this trend continuing. Healthcare services in Indonesia will improve and soon other markets will be required. We are thus trying to promote Malaysia as a destination in the west, such as the US and Canada for example. We find that North Americans are already aware of the services we offer here. In fact today, medical technology and medical equipment is the same as what you would find in the West and this is complemented by  many of our physicians here in Malaysia that have been trained in America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. It is also important to note that most of our healthcare providers are accredited by both the JCI (Joint Commission International), as well as the MSQH (Malaysian Society for Quality in Health). We have everything you could have in the US or in Europe, but for a fraction of the price.

What are Malaysia’s competitive advantages with regards to healthcare tourism vis-à-vis Thailand?

PONNUDURAI: Thailand has branded itself globally as a health and spa destination and thus has a head start over us, just like Singapore. But this does not mean that Malaysia does not have an opportunity to be in the same market and brand itself in the area of medical and wellness tourism. Malaysia Healthcare has embarked on leveraging on our technology platforms to promote and deliver the end to end solutions that patients today demand when they travel for health care. What distinguishes us from others is that we, Malaysia Healthcare, provide the entire end-to-end services that patients demand. In other words, even before you come to Malaysia, we screen you and have our own physicians on board. If there is a query, it goes to one of our medical advisers who are actual doctors in their various specialties. So, if you have an orthopedic query and you need a knee replacement, you will be communicating with our orthopedic specialists and, even before you fly over, we will be able to assess whether you should come over or not. Whenever you come, all the details for your medical journey and stay will have already been taken care of, meaning that we provide you with all services needed, from picking you up at the airport, to booking your hotel, arranging your appointments, and having a destination manager accompanying you and holding your hand at each step, if needed. Another important service that we offer is your post-treatment. So, what happens when you go back? Unlike other facilitators, where you are suddenly put back on a plane and nobody hears anything from you again, we have a US patented   device that enables you to stay connected with our medical advisers as it carries all of your medical information in the form of a card that is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant for security and privacy issues, as well as its ease of portability, where you can store your echo-cardiograms, your medication, your x-rays, and everything that relates to your medical data in a fully digitalized format. The card is inter-operable everywhere in the world, meaning that you can have follow up care in your own country with a click of a button with data translated into French, German, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, and all the major languages, so you can receive medical services anywhere in the world, especially after you leave Malaysia. We believe that completing the entire loop is a distinct advantage that Malaysia Healthcare has to offer its patients and health travelers will soon demand these services as technology enables it.

What other technological innovations is Malaysia Healthcare introducing to the sector?

PONNUDURAI: Just as the card provides value to our health travelers, we have also embarked in the area of remote health monitoring. In other words, governments have now started realizing that only the critical patients receive medical care in the hospital. Thus, like health travelers who return home after getting care in Malaysia , local citizens can also use this technology to be treated from their own homes. In other words, if you can be treated at home, for example for sugar level, blood pressure, and so on, you can transfer your data remotely, from your home to your provider in Malaysia, meaning that you do not need to take a day off of work and stand in a queue for ages. Governments are now becoming more and more wary because of the aging population, and their concern is that in a decade or two the hospitals will be unable to cope with citizens seeking care. In order to address the issue, we have partners abroad who are executing pilots. Therefore, we also have  arrangements with governments who are working with us on this new concept of a digitalized health card for their citizens as well as their health tourism initiatives. The card in effective as it is inter-operable globally, because the technology does not require the Internet or a reader. All you need is a USB input to plug in your card. The card is interpret-able anywhere you go and even where there is no Internet you can use it. For instance, when the Tsunami hit Japan, 50m people did not have access to electricity or the Internet. So what good is having your health records online in an emergency or a natural disaster? Thus, we have these pilots going on in different countries and we see that this will greatly enhances Malaysian medical tourism as we embark on these new technologies. By embarking on projects and pilots, we have involved different governments in collaborative efforts, which means that our healthcare services are highly regarded and this in turn will attract people to choose Malaysia.

What is your outlook for Malaysia’s healthcare tourism industry? Which indicators are showing the most positive trends and which remain challenges?

PONNUDURAI: The number of patients coming to Malaysia has been increasing by about 25-30% on an annual basis. I see that the emerging markets are also coming into the frame. If you look at Taiwan, Korea, and the Philippines, they are all jumping onto the wagon, because they, like others, see the opportunity. Malaysia has to be more aggressive in marketing its healthcare services and getting its name out by leveraging on technologies and building stronger public-private partnerships. I think that the MHTC (Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council) as a Government agency is doing a good job in this sense, as well as the Prime Minister himself, who is championing the whole exercise of promoting Malaysia. Having said that, I do believe that we need a more targeted approach as medical tourism is now a mature business and we have competitors. For instance, I do not know whether “medical tourism” would be the right term, because the term “medical” is more for people who need medical attention in a hospital environment. When you talk about “wellness”, you talk about people like you and me who do not need treatment, but still want to prevent themselves from getting ill. So I would start enlarging our services by promoting alternative medicine and our spas. Massages, stress relief, Chinese acupuncture, and things like that, though non-scientific, have been utilized for centuries and, though not documented, have been a part of the health domain for those seeking care. We should make people aware of the alternative treatments available and combine these with evidence-based traditional medical care at our hospitals. Finally, Malaysia Healthcare will continue to fast track its brand for healthcare and focus on targeted markets for medical and alternative treatment.